LONDON, England - Hard work and patience can really pay off - and in the case of Mirjana Lucic, it has. The former teen prodigy got her first Top 10 win in 13 years on Thursday, her big serve and huge groundstrokes on fire as she stunned World No.9 Marion Bartoli in the second round at SW19, 64 63.
Lucic was the talk of the tennis world in the late 1990s. As a 15-year-old she won the first WTA tournament she entered at Bol in 1997, even making the final of her second at Strasbourg the same year, losing to Steffi Graf in the final - Graf was quoted afterwards, "I was not nearly as good as she is at 15."
And for a few years the Croat fulfilled all the expectations, her crowning moment coming at Wimbledon in 1999, where she made it all the way to her first Grand Slam semifinal, again losing to Graf. Having already picked up Top 10 wins on clay in previous years against Amanda Coetzer and Mary Pierce, she got her third and fourth at Wimbledon against Monica Seles and Nathalie Tauziat.
Off-court problems contributed to some difficult years from there - she fell out of the Top 100 in 2000 and didn't break back into the elite until 2010 after picking up wins on the WTA and some titles on the ITF Circuit. She reached two WTA quarterfinals in 2011. And just like that, the momentum started building again.
Having come through qualifying and after toughing out a three set win over Alexandra Panova in the first round, Lucic raised her level in a big way against No.9 seed and former Wimbledon finalist Bartoli in the second round, blasting 33 winners to just 11 unforced errors to score her first Top 10 win since her win over Tauziat in the 1999 quarterfinals at the grass court Grand Slam.
"I served well and played really good tennis today," Lucic jubilated afterwards. "I'm thrilled to beat Bartoli and be in the third round of Wimbledon again.
"It's a huge win for my confidence as well. I've been working really hard for so long and it's really fun to see all the hard work come to fruition."
Awaiting Lucic in the third round here is No.21 seed Roberta Vinci, who defeated Marina Erakovic earlier in the day, 64 63. Lucic beat Vinci in their only previous meeting, in the second round of Birmingham last year, 67(2) 76(4) 75 (the Italian actually held a match point up 5-4 in the second set).
Vinci will try to reach the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time. She has been to the third round seven times before, but never further than that.
Since reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last year, Bartoli has now fallen early at four Grand Slams in a row - second round at the US Open (to Christina McHale), third round at the Australian Open (to Zheng Jie), second round at the French Open (to Petra Martic) and second round here at Wimbledon.